CASA volunteers are in it for the long haul

There are volunteers who want an honorable but quick fix — they have been named "episodic volunteers." These volunteers want to release energy doing physical labor while building a playground, or they want to bake cookies or feed the homeless — all very worthy endeavors.

Most organizations that provide help to our community couldn't survive without people volunteering. The current trend, according to recent studies, is to volunteer for an hour or a day at most — episodically. Studies show that long-term volunteer commitment is dead. Few, if any, are willing to do this anymore. A volunteer's attention span is akin to that of a 15-year-old. I am pleased to disagree.

Maybe it's the air in Southern Oregon or the slower pace, or the fact that many retirees nest here; whatever the reason, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jackson County had almost 200 CASA advocates (volunteers) in 2010 who made a two-year commitment to speak up for children who cannot speak for themselves.

I guess these volunteers are bucking the episodic trend; in fact, the average length of time a CASA advocate stays with our program is 51 months. Shhhhhhh: don't tell the trend reporters.

It is, however, no secret that our legal and human services systems are in crisis. Funding has been cut to a critical low considering the growing population that truly needs these services.

Jackson County Child Welfare is "allowed" by the state according to budget to operate at 70 percent capacity. I'm not even sure what that means — only 70 percent of child victims of abuse or neglect are protected? I think we still have better laws protecting animals than we do children.

There are Child Welfare caseworkers who are daily climbing out from under a mountain of bureaucratic red tape trying desperately to see the "child" in all of their work. There are judges who may be faced with four-day weeks and the challenge of how to hear every child abuse case within a four-day week instead of five when their dockets are completely full at five. But before you run for the aspirin, read on:

If there is a CASA advocate on the scene, the child will have someone ensuring they don't slip through the widening cracks of the system.

The CASA advocate is someone who, after intense training, becomes a legal party to the case when they are appointed to advocate for a child. They travel through all the layers of the Child Welfare, legal and treatment systems watching out for that child's best interests; guarding them from uninformed decisions made on their behalf, ensuring continuity of services, checking on their safety and much, much more.

One volunteer said he was trying to inject meaning into his life and considered taking up skydiving; luckily for a child, he became a CASA instead. He said, knowing that he was able to help a child victim find permanency and safety was much more exhilarating — and ultimately safer: "Skydiving can wait, but the kids cannot."

If you would like more information, call CASA of Jackson County at 541-734-2272 or visit Sign up now for our intensive October training.

Jennifer Mylenek is executive director of CASA of Jackson County.

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